Friday, May 12, 2006

Remembering Andijan

Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of the Andijan massacre, in which Uzbek soldiers murdered an estimated 700 protestors. Things began on May 10th, 2005, with a protest against the trial of 23 businessmen accused of being "Islamic extremists". The protests grew the next day, then on the night of May 12th a mob stormed the prison and a military garrison, seizing weapons and freeing the prisoners. Government troops sealed off the city, then on May 13th moved in to suppress the demonstrations. They did this by surrounding the town square, then firing indiscriminately into the crowd with automatic weapons.

In the wake of the massacre, the Uzbek government launched a crackdown on journalists, human rights activists, and political opponents. Independent media was censored or shut down, and international media driven from the country. Witnesses to the massacre were accused of "terrorism" and subjected to secret trials. Over 230 people have now been convicted in such trials, and it has been the massacre's victims, rather than its perpetrators, who have been punished. Internationally, the world's condemnation of the massacre does not seem to have been backed by firm action; in December the Uzbek Interior Minister Zokirjon Almatov was permitted to visit Germany for medical treatment, despite being subjected to a travel ban. Germany also continues to make use of the Termez air force base in Uzbekistan to support its operations in Afghanistan. The United States has not taken any action whatsoever, after initial mild criticism saw it summarily evicted from the country. This can only be described as a gross failure by the international community.

Of course, we can hardly talk; the New Zealand government hasn't uttered a word of criticism, let alone called for sanctions or prosecutions by the ICC. So much for being "a strong voice for human rights"...

The dead of Andijan are crying out for justice - and we have failed them. A year on, we should take the opportunity to correct that, by imposing sanctions on the Uzbek regime and making it clear that either they hold the perpetrators of this massacre to account - or we will.

[Hat tip: Matt Nippert]